Illegal Immigration and the EU – Action on the Horizon? (2/21)     Print Email

By: Hannah Morris, Editorial Assistant

During the first week of February, Italy’s navy rescued over one thousand illegal migrants from boats just southeast of the island of Lampedusa in a period of just 24 hours. In January alone, two thousand illegal migrants landed in Italy, ten times the number of arrivals in January 2013. In the third quarter of 2013, a total of 42,600 illegal immigrants arrived in the EU, almost double the number compared to 2012.[1] Unsurprisingly, the swelling numbers of illegal immigrants, whether coming from North Africa or the Middle East, is causing great concern among EU lawmakers, member state leaders and their citizens.

To date, Greece and Italy have borne the brunt of illegal immigration. Unfortunately, given the economic stress and unemployment weighing upon both countries, new migrants are especially unwelcome. In the face of extraordinary austerity measures to combat its own debt crisis, Greece has also had to take measures to stem the influx of migrants crossing its borders via Turkey and Albania. Such flows require significant resources including authorities to control borders, as well as the maintenance of detention or “reception” centers. During the October 2013 EU Summit, Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras declared that illegal immigration is of ‘paramount importance’ and that migration would be a top priority during his country’s sixth month Presidency of the Council of the European Union.

That same month, in October 2013, a migrant ship on its way to Lampedusa sank, leaving over 500 men, women, and children to drown. Pope Francis, who had visited Lampedusa in July 2013 following a sadly similar event, called the situation a “disgrace,” especially following the “world’s indifference” to the earlier tragedy.[2] In response, EU leaders and the Justice and Home Affairs Council (JHA) of the Commission delegated a Task-Force Mediterranean (TFM) to determine what “action should be taken in order to prevent deaths at sea and to prevent such human tragedies from happening again.” Last December, the TFM released a report to pointing to five main areas of action that the EU should pursue including:  

1) Actions in cooperation with third countries.

2) Regional protection, resettlement and reinforced avenues to Europe;

3) Fight against trafficking, smuggling and organized crime;

4) Reinforced border surveillance contributing to enhancing maritime situational picture and to the protection and saving lives of migrants in the Mediterranean;

5) Assistance and solidarity with Member States with high migration pressure;[3]

In total, the detailed report offered thirty-eight items that could be implemented within these five areas of action. While actions that require cooperation with “third countries” fall into the framework of European Neighborhood Policy and Global Approach to Migration and Mobility (GAMM), the report evokes a much more engaged EU, one more willing to broach a Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) as discussed at the December 2013 European Council summit. EU member states’ leaders indicated a willingness to cede a greater degree of sovereignty regarding defense on behalf of coordination and deeper integration to more effectively address transnational, complex threats. The TFM recommendations, which include measures to combat smugglers’ networks in Tunisia, potential cooperation in maritime surveillance with “third countries,” information campaigns in countries of departure on the dangers of “irregular channels” of migration, as well as on-the-ground liaisons in Turkey and Libya to support local authorities are important steps in the development of a coordinated EU approach.

This April’s EU-Africa Summit, “Investing in People, Prosperity and Peace,” offers the EU an opportunity to address both migration and security concerns with African heads of state and NGOS working on the ground in the ports of departure for many migrants. According to European External Action Service’s Africa Managing Director, Nick Westcott, the “challenges of migration” will top the agenda. [4]